The cat that is usually to be found lurking in the border by our bird feeders leaves its lair and sets off down our garden then makes its way through a gap in the hawthorn hedge. After all that waiting and watching, it’s ready for a work-out. It jumps onto next door’s trampoline and starts clawing around the entrance flap in the safety mesh. It evidently enjoys that, as it slinks in through the slit and indulges in another burst of claw-sharpening on the mesh from the inside.
Next it walks around the perimeter, then decides to attempt to climb up the netting on the far side. It almost gets to the top.
But that’s it for this session, it leaves by the entrance flap, jumps down and walks off down the garden path.
It’s time that I got back to adding watercolour to my drawings, real watercolour that is, not the virtual watercolour of my iPad drawings, so when we set off to Leeds I take a new A5 Bockingford 300 gsm sketchbook with me. My regular sketchbooks are often cartridge paper, which works fine for the light washes that I normally use but it’s a pleasure to use something with a bit more character. You might think that watercolour paper would be more absorbent than cartridge but this variety has a surface – probably a thin coating of size – which is slightly resistant to a wash. This isn’t a problem, I just need to have enough watercolour on my brush to cover the area that I’m working on.
My thanks to Cremede Art for letting me try a hand-finished sample of their sketchbooks.
We’ve just posted off all our Christmas cards, so far ahead of schedule that we deserve a coffee and a homemade lattice mince pie at Di Bosco’s. What a difference homemade mincemeat makes; plump raisins and sultanas soaked, we guess, in brandy with lemon and lime to give it a fresh hint of citrus.
I draw a few of the customers as they walk in from the car park. I’ve brought my Lamy Safari fountain pen with the B nib, which is the pen that I used to write the cards.
I enjoyed the opportunity to write sixty or seventy addresses as a way of trying to improve my handwriting. Inevitably, I started off feeling self-conscious about it, which makes me feel tense, which in turn brings out the shakiness in my hands.
I’d find that I was attempting to brace myself, keeping arms rigid and bending over so that my shoulders and back tensed up too but with so many envelopes to get through, I soon got into the rhythm of it and sat up in a straighter, more relaxed pose, my arms less constrained.
The rounded tip of the B nib makes it a pleasure to write with. Spikes, spluttering lines have their place but a flowing line is more relaxing to draw, or write.
I’m experimenting with the latest version of WordPress, so if you’ve noticed a change in the layout of my blog, that’s the reason. I’ve got a lot to learn but the best way is to try things out.
In the Pleasure Grounds by the Lower Lake at Nostell, the bark of some of the old sweet chestnuts twists to the right while others twist to the left but on the majority of these old trees the fluting on the bark goes straight up, often dotted with knobbly swellings on the swollen bases of the trunks.
The two scars where the bark has been stripped from the lower trunk (above) might be the result of a lightning strike. The tree’s sap is instantly converted into steam, with explosive results.
The horse chestnut, which isn’t a close relation of the sweet chestnut, has scaly bark. This section of bark on the bough of an old horse chestnut, growing out towards the lake near the Cascade Bridge, has been worn and polished by generations of adventurous children so that it’s come to resemble the skin of a reptile.
I can’t draw a tree with twisting, carunculated bark without thinking of Arthur Rackham’s lively pen and watercolour drawings. No tree twists more than the hornbeam which always seems snakelike to me. This tree by the Lower Lake at Nostell is also dotted with pale lichens, echoing the cryptic colouring of a boa constrictor.
I’m going to add some colour to this, but I like it as a simple mapping pen drawing (Clip Studio Paint version on the iPad).
From my diary for Wednesday, 8 September, 1971, Horbury, West Riding of Yorkshire:
On our way back [from visiting grandparents in Nottinghamshire] I noticed that Horbury Station was half demolished. I cycled down and asked them for the clock – they let me have it.
Man in charge of demolition (note: in my drawings no-one is wearing a hard hat!):
“Ahh, you like old stuff, do you? We demolished an old place in Leeds with faces and things carved on it. All in stone and they’re just going to put an office block up there. This thing would have stood while the new buildings fell. I had an old watch, a little silver one, from a site in Leeds.”
The clockwork was missing, I soon lost the wooden frame, which was in comb-jointed sections and, if I remember rightly, was painted in a dull turquoise. I suspect my father might have thrown the pieces out. My brother-in-law Dave found me an electric motor, but it drove the hands in reverse. Eventually, on my move away from Horbury, the glass, which I suspect was Victorian float glass, got smashed and I’m afraid that in a clear-out a few years later, I disposed of the clock-face.
There was no maker’s name and the numerals were Roman.
I probably wouldn’t choose to draw any of these building individually, but I enjoyed drawing the jumble of shapes of the Leeds city centre skyline as seen from Cafe Costa at the Crown Point Retail Park.
As I drew a single magpie was pecking between the slats of a ventilation grill at the side of the Mothercare building. Perhaps there were spiders or insects sheltering there.
We’re waiting for Hobbycraft to open, a store that I don’t think I’ve ever visited before. At one time, I couldn’t have browsed around the extensive art section without buying a particular pen or sketchbook but I’m so happy with my TWSBI EcoT fountain pen that I’m not really on the look-out for the next best thing. I’ve still got a drawer in my plan chest and a shoe box in the attic stocked with new sketchbooks but my rate of getting through them has slowed since I became fascinated by drawing on the iPad.
It’s good to alternate between iPad and sketchbook, to be reminded what a pleasure it is to make real inky lines on paper. There’s a feedback from the texture of cartridge paper that I’m never going to get from my Apple Pencil on the glassy surface of the iPad.
“I just selected this,” novelist Stan Barstow told me, as he gave me a well-worn Pan paperback of Bright Day, “as perhaps my all time favourite novel, certainly my favourite of J.B. Priestley’s, but it’s quite a suitable subject for you as it involves ‘disenchantment with the celluloid industry’, and part of it is set in pre-World War I ‘Bruddersford’, so you should be able to get some subject matter locally.
“Also, as it happens, I believe Yorkshire TV are in the process of filming a version of it at the moment, so, if you were stuck for costumes and sets, perhaps they’d oblige.
“Don’t worry about the cover illustration, which is nothing like. The story is so beautifully constructed and flows in such a fascinating way that illustrations seem irrelevant anyway.
“Apologies for biro marks.”
Stan had used the copy when he dramatised Bright Day for a BBC Radio 4 play. He’d met J.B.Priestley and more or less got him to admit the Bright Day was his favourite amongst all his novels.
He gave me this in the 1970s and his reference to me being disenchanted with the celluloid industry probably means that it was after my three or four months’ stint working as assistant background artist on Martin Rosen’s animated version of Watership Down in 1976. With the publication of my first book looming, I was making efforts to put together a folio to show the range of my work, which for the past few months had consisted entirely of drawings of the interior of Cowslip’s Warren!
I loved Priestley’s description of the first room that the would-be writer in the novel sets up for himself, as I’d recently settled into a similar room, which had to serve as both studio and bedroom, in a shared flat and was enjoying attempting to start making a living from writing and illustration. I liked one of the minor characters in the story, Jock Bamiston, who ‘does nothing of any consequence’ but through it all:
‘remained cool and amused yet friendly, like a well-wisher sent to us from some other and nobler planet’.
I think that sums up the role of the illustrator pretty well: to be an amused observer.
The birds on our feeders are having a hard time with the sparrowhawk swooping in regularly and this character, a neighbour’s cat with a bushy tail, lurking in the flower bed. Even the pheasants keep their distance when the cat is around, although they don’t seem too concerned about the sparrowhawk.
On our walk around Newmillerdam Lake this morning, it’s good to see the sun breaking through after so many gloomy, misty November days, especially as we get a brief glimpse of two kingfishers flying along the edge of the lake, apparently engaged in a bit of a dogfight, one swooping at the other. One (or possibly both of them, it all happens so quickly) heads out across the lake to the far side, where the drain enters the lake. We’re told that the drain is the place that you’re most likely to see them.
I see the sapphire blue on one of the bird’s backs and Barbara also spots the orange of its breast as it flies by.
Ducks and Drakes
A month from today – Boxing Day – the days will be getting longer. Drake mallards are already cruising around in noisy groups, displaying to females but they won’t start nesting until March.
One of the coots on the lake was cruising along calling – a sound which reminds me of a hooter on a child’s pedal car.
From our table in the cafe at Blacker Hall Farm, I can see the cattle grazing, a powerful-looking bull standing calmly amongst them.